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School bus drivers call off strike

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 2/21/2013, 3:53 p.m.

During New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's final State of the City address, he said that the school bus drivers' strike was a "lost cause" and he urged all drivers to return to work and "stop hurting our children."

Looks like they listened.

Last Friday, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 ended a monthlong strike against school bus companies and the city of New York. Buses resumed as scheduled on Wednesday.

"We rerouted approximately 800 special-education students during the strike, and we will contact each family directly to avoid additional confusion," said Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott on Monday. Walcott also told reporters that all MetroCards that were issued by the city expired on Wednesday and asked that the parents to return them when the students go back to school. He also said that the city saved close to $80 million, even though it cost them $21 million to help get students to school.

ATU 1181 President Michael Cordiello initially orchestrated the strike because they wanted any bids they city's taking for contractors to include the Employee Protection Provision, which ensures the job security of union members and lets them keep their current hourly salaries.

It's something that Bloomberg is challenging.

"That's why we've also put our bus contracts out to bid," stated Bloomberg during the SATC. "For more than 30 years, the unions and the bus companies have had a virtual monopoly on the contracts. This week, we received the opening bids for the new contracts and there's the potential for hundreds of millions of dollars in savings. We will plow that money back into our schools where it belongs."

On Friday, other elected officials and mayoral hopefuls followed suit and recommended that 1181 end the strike.

A joint letter signed by former City Comptroller Bill Thompson, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, current City Comptroller John Liu, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and former Councilman Sal Albanese vowed to work with the bus drivers on a solution if they're elected and asked for Bloomberg to get back to the negotiating table.

"This city and our families depend on a well-trained, quality work force," read the letter. "And we continue to stand with you in your battle for job security and decent wages. At this time, however, with an intransigent administration unwilling to accept, as the union has, Judge [Milton] Mollen's call for a suspension of the bids and the strike to pursue a negotiated resolution to the dispute, we call upon you and your members to return to their jobs and continue the battle in other ways."

In a separate statement on Friday, Albanese took on the mayor despite asking for an end to the strike.

"I want to applaud the drivers and matrons of ATU 1181," Albanese said. "Five weeks ago, they made a tough decision to stand up to a bully of a mayor. In the time since, they have forced almost every elected official in New York City to finally take a stand on this issue. By ending the strike today, drivers and matrons showed once again that they, not the mayor, are the adults in the room. They are putting the immediate safety of our students before all else, and for that, they deserve the gratitude of every New Yorker."

Councilman Robert Jackson was also sympathetic to the workers and to the parents they serve, especially those with children with disabilities who couldn't make their way to school recently. Jackson also stated that the city's at fault for some of the mess.

"We agree that it is in the interest of our children, their parents and the strikers to bring this strike to a halt," said Jackson. "We are, however, completely sympathetic to the plight of the school bus workers. Unlike the mayor, our actions are informed by the facts. It is simply wrong to lay any blame for the increased need for bus service that has been met by the city in recent years at the foot of the workers."